Portland, USA (Reuters): A recent US study claimed that backache (back pain) is the most common type of pain in older people, and it could signal a greater risk of falling, even for people with no other disabilities.
Lead author Lynn Marshall, an associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland said, “We know that older people with back pain have a poor physical function, like lower strength and difficulty rising from a chair.”
Researchers said that the pain was not considered as a traditional fall risk factor, but our study showed that back pain is a risk factor for falls among older men.
Researchers analyzed data on nearly 6,000 men over age 65 living at home. The participants filled out baseline questionnaires about back pain whether they had experienced it in the previous 12 months, where the pain was, how often it happened and how severe it was.
The men also reported every four months on whether they had fallen and how many times over the following year.
The researchers also collected information on the men’s medication use, dizziness, disabilities and other body areas experiencing pain to account for the influence of these factors on the risk of a fall.
Just over two-thirds of the men reported having had back pain in the baseline questionnaire. Among these, 62 percent had pain only in the low back, 9 percent reported the pain as severe, 20 percent were bothered by their pain "all or most of the time" and 30 percent limited their activities because of the pain.
During the next year 1,388 men – one-quarter of the group – fell at least once, and 632 men had multiple falls, according to the results in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.
The men with back pain were 30 percent more likely than those without it to fall multiple times, though the risk of falling just once was the same between groups.
The risk of any fall was higher for people with pain in two different parts of the back, however and higher still for people with three or more sites of pain, compared to those with no back pain.
Men with more severe back pain or pain that occurred more often were also at greater risk for falls.
Dr Thomas Gill, a professor of geriatric medicine at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut said, “Falls and particularly injuries from falls are a common source of disability and functional decline among older persons, but are preventable through relatively inexpensive interventions.”
Gill noted that making safety adjustments in the house, such as tacking down rugs and adding grab bars in bathrooms may be helpful for people at risk of falling.
“Physical activity and exercise, particularly focusing on gait, balance and muscle strength, are beneficial,” researcher said adding that proper footwear is important.
Minimising the number of medications that may affect the brain or blood pressure may also be helpful to prevent falls, Gill said.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of death and injury in older Americans.
The results showed that similar findings of a heightened fall risk among US women with back pain.
One of the researcher stated, “Falls result when we lose our balance and fail to recover it. To avoid falls, we need to be aware of both the conditions that could cause us to lose balance and the conditions that prevent regaining balance.”
The study recommends talking to one’s doctor about any concerns about balance or falling and that people ask how best to adapt their homes to avoid falls.